Guide to Recycling

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/EDBOCKSTOCK
Most cities now have some type of recycling program.

You’ve heard the old saw too many times already: “Americans
have been conditioned to accept a throwaway lifestyle.” In
the brief flurry of environmental enthusiasm of the first
few years of the decade, many recognized that statement,
however overused, to be true, and the recycling boom was
born. An encouraging start found it difficult to stand the
test of years, and paper, plastic, and metal recycling
rates have begun to level off. It’s disappointing, but not
surprising. The regimen of separating, bundling, and
disposing is made even more complicated by collection
ordinances that often defy understanding. Consumers have
little incentive to recycle because just how the external
cost of packaging is reflected in market prices is not
always clear to us. And often, market prices don’t reflect
dwindling mineral supplies. Because of government funding
to mining companies, consumers have no incentive to reduce
demand soon enough to avoid economic depletion of minerals.

Mining and energy industries get large tax breaks,
depletion allowances, and other tax-supported federal
subsidies. These subsidies encourage mining and energy
industries to get virgin resources out of the ground as
quickly as possible. Low mineral prices–supported by
government funding–fail to include external costs of
mining and processing; encourage resource waste, faster
depletion, and more pollution and environmental
degradation.

By contrast, recycling industries get few tax breaks and
other subsidies. Actually, the lack of large, steady
markets for recycled materials also makes recycling a risky
business. It becomes a financial venture that attracts
little investment capital. But the battle continues.

Aluminum

Consumers in the United States throw away enough aluminum
to rebuild the country’s airline fleet every three
months. Despite a growing market trend towards recycling
one particular aluminum product, the can, the vast majority
of this resource is still wasted. And what’s more,
the U.S. has virtually no reserves should a sudden military
or industrial need present itself. Our aluminum is
currently imported largely from Jamaica and Australia
because it is simply consumed more rapidly than domestic
supplies can keep up with. Additionally, Other countries
have higher-grad ore deposits that are cheaper to extract
than lower-grade U.S. reserves.

Plastics

Plastics are made from petroleum and natural gas. They
account for about 7 percent of the weight of municipal
solid waste in the United States. They are the
fastest-growing type of waste by weight in landfills. Most
plastics used today are either virtually nonbiodegradable
or take some 200 to 400 years to degrade in landfills.

Despite what you may have heard, only 1 percent of all
plastic wastes and 4 percent of plastic packaging is
recycled. Many plastic products today carry a label saying
they are biodegradable or recyclable. While his statement
is technically true, it is also highly misleading. Plastics
degrade very slowly in landfills, and 99 percent of all
plastic waste is not recycled.

The plastics industry runs ads promoting plastics as
recyclable. However, the main purpose of the ads is to keep
us buying more plastics. The best solution is to simply use
much less plastic in the first place, especially throwaway
items.

Cardboard and Newspaper

Each year the average American consumes 600 pounds of
paper. Recycling that one-third of a ton of cardboard,
boxboard, and newspaper saves forests, lessens solid waste,
and reduces water and air pollution. Conservationists
estimate that at least 50 percent of the world’s wastepaper
(mostly newspapers, cardboard, office paper, and
computer/copier paper) could be recycled by the end of this
century. Currently only about 25 percent is recycled in the
United States, the world’s foremost paper consumer. And
that 50 percent mark is definitely obtainable. During World
War II, when paper drives and recycling were national
priorities, the U.S. recycled 45 percent of its wastepaper.

Glass

Glass is made chiefly form silica sand (silica, or silicon
dioxide), soda ash (sodium carbonate), and limestone
(calcium carbonate). In order to make glass, the glassmaker
mixes and fires a large amount of silica sand and small
amounts of soda ash, limestone, and other materials. These
other materials may be alumina (aluminum oxide), salt cake
(sodium sulfate), or lead oxide. The mixture is heated to
2,600 to 2,900 degrees Fahrenheit. When the liquid mass
cools, the final product holds our soda.

Beware the Chasing Arrows

Be careful if you’ve been under the impression that those
color-coded arrows chasing arrows in a triangle have some
kind of verifiably consistent meaning. The use of recycling
logos is unregulated, and, as more and more polls indicate
a consumer preference for “environmentally friendly”
products, the logos may be becoming as much a marketing
tool as any kind of meaningful indicator of information.

Some manufacturers use color-coded recycling logos to
indicate different percentages of recycled product
contents. The paper industry, for example, generally uses
white arrows to indicate 100 percent recycled paper
products and black arrows for products that contain some
recycled material. But you will only know how much recycled
material any product contains if the manufacturer includes
a legend indicating the percentage along with the logo. The
legend, however, is not required by law.

In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission issued a set of
guidelines for labeling and advertising “recycled,”
“recyclable,” “degradable,” and “environmentally friendly”
products. The FTC claims the guidelines will help prevent
false or misleading labeling. However, they are legally
unenforceable, so look for the legend.


What is Recyclable?

Recycling or resource recovery, and reuse require less
energy and cause less pollution and land disruption than
use of virgin resources. They cut waste disposal costs and
prolong the life of landfill by reducing the volume of
waste.

Aluminum

Recyclable aluminum includes aluminum cans, aluminum foil,
aluminum pie tins, and cooling pans. Be sure to empty and
rinse containers. Keep separate from other recyclable
materials. Aluminum can be flattened to save space.

Cardboard and Newspaper

Cardboard includes cardboard boxes and inserts or dividers
used for packaging. If everyone in the country recycled
their Sunday newspaper, we would save an entire forest of
500,000 trees each week. Reconstituted, cleaned, combined
with virgin fibers, and reformed into new newsprint,
newspaper has different grades and mixing them will
complicate the recycling process. No books, magazines,
glossy paper, or metal objects. NOTE: Colored inserts are
okay unless they are glossy. Keep dry, clean. and separate
from other recyclables.

Cardboard is baled, made into pulp, and cleaned before
being pressed anew. It’s important to remember that
contaminants (oils, grease, and food residues) make
cardboard or boxboard unfit for recycling, and that
boxboard contaminates cardboard and vice versa.

Boxboard

Cereal, pancake, dinner mix, and cracker boxes, paper
orange juice and milk containers. Poly-coated boxboard is
also recyclable. Keep separate from other recyclable
materials.

Glass

There are three types of glass: clear, brown, and green.
Separate your glass by color. Keep in mind that the weight of
glass makes recycling expensive and some recyclers won’t
accept it. Since recycled glass is remelted and formed into
new containers; you must separate it by colors: clear, brown,
and green.

Steel

Most commonly, canned goods are packaged in steel, and so
are containers for shoe polish, car and floor wax,
seasonings, tools, kitchen utensils, throat lozenge
containers, staples, and paper clips. Steel containers are
also called “tin” or “bimetal” cans. Returned steel is then
compacted and shredded. If you are unsure of a container’s
material, grab a magnet from the fridge. If the magnet
sticks, recycle as steel. If not, it is probably aluminum.
Empty and rinse steel cans prior to disposal. Remove
labels, ends, and flatten to save space (optional).

Plastics

Plastics vary according to code numbers. Normally recyclers
accept number one, two, and six. Be sure you only buy code
numbers that are accepted by your recycler. Plastic
returned to recyclers is compacted by number code, washed,
shredded, pelletized, and reformed to new plastic
containers. Empty and rinse containers prior to disposal,
and remember to remove the lids. Check the code number on
the bottom and sort by number. Keep separate or tie by the
handles.

Plastic Code Numbers

1. Soda bottles, small bottled water bottles, cooking oil
containers, dishwashing soap
2. One-gallon milk containers, dishwashing soap containers,
large condiment containers, vinegar containers, bleach
bottles, cleaning fluids, yogurt containers
3. Barbecue sauce containers
4. Waterproof bags placed on newspapers
6. Polystyrene; egg cartons, meat containers, cottage
cheese containers, take-out containers

Manufacturers of our depleting resources claim
there is no demand for more environmentally sound methods
of packaging their products. To prove otherwise, readers
should write to manufacturers of the products that do not
use recyclable packaging and ask them to use packaging that
is recyclable.
 

But don’t stop there. Governments need to hear the
same message. An example of the government working for us
is the British Columbia paper mills. British Columbia mills
soon will be producing chlorine-free pulp, not because
papermakers want it, but because the Canadian government
demanded it!